About Walker Kirkland Hancock
Walker Kirtland Hancock (June 28, 1901, St. Louis, Missouri – December 30, 1998, Gloucester, Massachusetts) was a 20th-century American sculptor and teacher. He created notable monumental sculptures, including the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial (1950–52) at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He made major additions to the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, including Christ in Majesty (1972), the bas relief over the High Altar. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1989, and the Medal of Freedom in 1990.
Hancock was born in St. Louis, Missouri, where he spent a year at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University, then transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to study with Charles Grafly.
As a student at PAFA, he won the 1921 Edmund Stewardson Prize, and the 1922 and 1923 William Emlen Cresson Traveling Scholarships, enabling him to travel through Europe. His Bust of Toivo (1925, PAFA) won the 1925 George D. Widener Memorial Gold Medal.
He won the 1925 Prix de Rome, which enabled him to study for 3 years at the American Academy in Rome, and travel through Italy and Europe.
Following Grafly's death in an auto accident, Hancock became PAFA's Instructor of Sculpture in 1929. He held that position until 1967, with interruptions for his war service and two years as sculptor-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome (1956–57).
World War II
He won the national competition to design the Air Medal (1942), established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for "any person who, while serving in any capacity in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard of the United States subsequent to September 8, 1939, distinguishes, or has distinguished, himself by meritorious achievement while participating in an aerial flight."
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and became one of the "Monuments Men", recovering art looted by the Nazis.
Three weeks before being shipped overseas, he married Saima Natti on December 4, 1943, in a chapel at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Later, he would make major additions to the cathedral, including the altarpiece for the Good Shepherd Chapel (1957); the bas relief over the High Altar, Christ in Majesty (1972); and a life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln (1984).
His most famous work is the Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial (1950–52) at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 39-foot (11.9 m) monument is dedicated to the 1,307 PRR employees who died in the war, and whose names are inscribed on its tall, black-granite base. Hancock's heroic bronze, entitled Angel of the Resurrection, depicts Michael the Archangel raising up a fallen soldier from the Flames of War. It was his favorite sculpture.
In 1964, he took over supervision of the Confederate Memorial at Stone Mountain, Georgia. This had been begun in 1917 by Gutzon Borglum, who abandoned the project in 1925. (Borglum went on to design and carve Mount Rushmore.) No work had been done since 1928. Hancock's chief carver, Roy Faulkner, completed the project in 1972.
At a Trappist monastery in Kentucky, he created an extraordinary sculpture group, The Garden of Gethsemani (1965–66). On one side of a forest glade, a kneeling figure of Christ, seen from behind, agonizes about offering himself up for sacrifice, while on the other side his disciples, Peter, James, John, lie asleep. This is a memorial to Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian murdered during the Civil Rights Movement. A duplicate of the 2-part work is at Trinity Episcopal Church, Topsfield, Massachusetts, and a duplicate of Christ Praying is at the Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Works by him are at the United States Military Academy (West Point), the Library of Congress, the United States Supreme Court Building, and the United States Capitol.
Walker Hancock was awarded the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Medal of Honor in 1953, the Herbert Adams Medal of Honor from the National Sculpture Society in 1954, the National Medal of Arts in 1989, and the Medal of Freedom in 1990. He was a member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Collection of Fine Arts Commission.
From 1930 onwards, he kept a studio in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to which he ultimately retired. Saima Natti Hancock, his wife of 40 years, died in 1984. The Cape Ann Historical Association (Gloucester, MA) mounted a 1989 retrospective exhibition of his works, and published his autobiography, A Sculptor's Fortunes (1997).
He endowed Massachusetts's Walker Hancock Prize, given for excellence in the arts. The National Sculpture Society has an annual prize named for him. His papers are at the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution and in the Hancock Family Archives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.